During my childhood, one of the most boring words in the world was “shrub.” It usually referred to a hedge that needed to be pruned, or an obstacle that got in the way of a good game of soccer.
Since those days, I have been re-acquainted with these plants that exist genetically somewhere between trees and perennial flowers. The shrubs that are available now come from all corners of the world. Modern travel can bring a plant from Siberia to Chile in a day. New discoveries in hybridizing allow quality plants to be introduced into new areas, and differences such as hardiness, colour, or specific growth traits can be harnessed to increase the diversity of the species.
There are thousands of different types of shrubs in the world, and likely hundreds of them will be able to survive in your growing area. Finding the right shrub can be a difficult task. It takes experience to find the right species and place it into the right location in your garden.
Evergreen shrubs or low growing Conifers can provide year round interest, and the colour remains a fairly consistent green through out the year. These shrubs can provide part of the canvass for a large garden, or provide a windbreak or privacy for a patio. They are especially useful in the background and are quite resilient to foot traffic, pets or even excited children!
Flowering shrubs can provide breath-taking beauty, from Flowering Almond, Lilacs, and Peonies in the spring to the summer blooming Potentilla’s, Hibiscus and Buddleia as the summer changes into fall. Shrubs can provide the backbone to a garden, helping to shape the bed.
The first shrub to make an impact on me was the Hibiscus. I can recall noticing them on a long drive down through Georgia and Florida. They had huge colourful flowers that were often showcased in lawns as centerpieces. Through the years, they have become more diverse, and hardy species now exist that were not previously available. Hibiscus can grow in many different conditions, from swampy areas to northern climates, from Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia, to the remaining corners of the globe.
The Hibiscus Syriacus (Rose of Sharon) is a winter-hardy Hibiscus species that exists in the warmer parts of Canada. The Rose of Sharon is a shrub or standard with pronounced and abundant flowers during the late summer and fall. It can be pruned into a small tree form to make it a permanent standout at the back of a garden or as a centerpiece for specimen planting.
Hibiscus Moschuetos has the ability to produce some of the largest flowers of the Hibiscus species, with dinner-plate sized flowers that are truly spectacular. These oversized blooms show their beauty through the summer on perennial shrubs that fall back to the ground in winter. These plants may need winter protection in colder environments, or can be used in microclimate areas where the plants’ hardiness may be stretched.
Hib. Mutabilis is another species that tests the limits of Canadian winters. Currently found in some of the warmer climates in the country, the plant (known in some American states as the “Confederate Rose”) can be grown in warm areas when treated with full sun. Some winter protection is almost mandatory. The flowers on some of these plants will change colour throughout the day.
I have a personal preference for the Hibiscus Rosa Sinesis. As such, it appears on these pages as a hobby plant. The Rosa Sinesis is not a perennial, but a plant that thrives in the tropics. It has a fascinating beauty and tremendous depth of personality in the form of colour, blooms, and unique hybridizations. The worldwide perspective on this plant has led to it’s being dubbed as the “Queen of the Tropics”, and usually for good reason. It can be moved outside in the summer, and kept indoors in the winter.
If you are careful, you can get blooms right through Christmas, making a tropical Christmas tree a unique possibility. These plants are also ideal for condominium owners or apartment dwellers as they are easily kept in medium or large size pots, and they are non-poisonous to humans and animals. They can be moved onto a balcony, or placed in a sunny window where they will reward you with a plethora of continuous, vibrant blooms.
If you would like more information on Hibiscus Rosa-Sinesis, or other Hibiscus plants, please refer to the International Hibiscus Society, check with your local library or online sources, or email us at
Q-What is a Perennial
states it is a plant that continues to live for two years or more. This
generic description can then be applied to any plants which survive outdoors
in your geographic area, and which usually appear to die back somewhat
during the winter months. A perennial can be herbaceous such as Tulips or
Chrysanthemums, or woody like trees and shrubs. Usually woody perennials do
not die back to the ground; the trunks, branches and twigs remain inactive
but alive throughout the winter months.
A- This question
can be answered best by looking at where you live, the climate zone you live
in, and the current layout of your yard. Climate zones vary based on the
average hot and cold temperatures on a monthly base that occur in your area.
They can be influenced
In some ways, it is possible to influence your zone by creating a small microclimate so plants that are outdoors can be protected from excessive cold or wind. It can be as easy as planting in a southern facing garden, adjacent to a wall or house which collects radiant heat from the sun and stores it into the night. A sheltered location from a cold northwestern wind, some evergreen plants situated upwind, or even a thick layer of mulching material can assist with protecting your garden from extremes of cold. It can be surprising sometimes when you realize that the quantity of snow you receive doesn’t damage plants as much as constant freezing and thawing. A cold snap, followed by a thick layer of snow will insulate the plants and protect them from extreme cold for most of a winter. A mild winter with repeated thaws and freezing can cause more damage as the plant tries repeatedly to try to sprout during the warm spells, only to freeze again and experience die-back.
Q-How do I tell an annual from a perennial?
A- This is not always an easy thing to do. When purchasing plants, look for the tags that are in the plant. It should specify the type of plant you have and it should have a zone rating or state “annual”
Some of the most eye-catching tags or flowers can be annuals. Be cautious when you go looking. Buyers beware. I am not recommending that you eliminate annuals entirely from your garden, merely that you build a garden to grow and expand with time. Some
space can always be left open if you have some favourite flower such as Impatiens or Petunias which can fill in holes that may exist at borders or between shrubs.
One common suggestion I would have for a new gardener would be to find out about the area being considered for the garden. Is it in a sunny or shady location? Is the soil type mainly sandy or is it thick with clay? Do you have water available at his area (by hose or sprinkler) or will you have to carry water to the site. Do you want to plant groupings of flowers, or a flowering tree or shrub? By answering some of these questions, you have already started finding answers to the type of gardens that can work for you.
Spring Check list.
Here is a listing of some common tasks that take place in the spring for the average gardener.
1) Clean up last year’s tools. Sharpen cutting or pruning tools, oil moving parts, wipe down exposed metal with an oily rag.
2) Clean up old pots and sanitize to prevent disease or insect transfer to these years new plants. Insect eggs may be attached to the bottom of the pot, or in old soil.
3) Inspect the growing area; do new tree branches overhang the garden? Is there adequate drainage? Does the soil need amending? Will you use organic fertilizer or chemical based ? Will pesticides or herbicides be required to combat an aggressive pest from last year?
4) Time to get out the seed packs and try planting some early seeds for the spring thaw. Seeds may need specific treatment for proper germination; the seed packet usually has many of the specifics for each variety of seed contained within it.
5) A sunny window or warm protected area may suffice to sprout your new seeds and keep them protected until they can be hardened off for outdoor planting when the danger of the last frost has passed.
6) Some species of trees or shrubs can be pruned before the sap starts flowing in the plant. Be cautious of pruning any spring-blossoming plants or fruit trees as they may have already formed the flower buds for this years growth. Some plants such as Rhodo’s, Azaleas, Magnolia’s etc should not be pruned until after the plant has flowered.
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